Physical vs. Virtual Models

  1. We have to present the user benefits of laser scanning in non-technical terms.
  2. The primary deliverable of a laser scan is a 3D model – not a physical one a virtual one.
  3. By extracting intelligence from the scan data you can create a building information model or BIM.

User benefits – these have to be clearly understood and delineated in terms that the user, not the technician understands.

For example, I was speaking with a well established building contractor yesterday about the potential of laser scanning in the building retrofit market. He has a customer who owns an old theater style building. Above the drop ceiling of the stage and seating area there is an incredible amount of mechanical, electrical and plumbing – MEP. It’s like spaghetti up there.

The customer does not know what is there, and would love to have what the contractor referred to as a set of “plans” for this area, but if you can picture this 100 year old building and all of the accumulated MEP that has been added project by project, you know that  laser scanning is the only hope. The challenge is communicating to the customer exactly what he/she is going to get from the laser scanning – what the deliverable is going to be, and how the customer will be able to make use of it.

When this question was asked the first response was, “Well what do they want? What software are they using? What are they going to do with the data?” These are all fair questions to someone who understands the technology, but not to a complete novice. This is only going to result in a negative impression, which it did. We have to be ready and able to clearly articulate the benefits of laser scanning to customers in terms that they can relate to.

After reflecting on this for a few hours what I think would have been a much better answer to the deliverable question would have been, an as-found 3D model. Now everyone knows what a model of a building or a topography looks like, but no we are not talking about a “physical” model, we are referring to a virtual model that is delivered in digital form. This is the key association that needs to be made.

Of course this will lead to questions about access to the data, which are not all that easy to answer, but there are some free laser scan data viewers out there that offer the novice the ability to “see” the data on their computer. Let’s not underestimate the value of visualization. That is in fact essentially all that a physical model offers, and those have been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years, often at significant costs to produce. However, unlike a physical model they will be able to rotate the virtual model, pan and zoom it, and make some basic distance and height measurements with the click of a mouse. Powerful stuff.

Once this basic understanding of the product being delivered is established the conversation can then get into how best to move from raw visual data to actionable information, or how to turn the point cloud into a much higher value, in this case, building information model or BIM. Hopefully now the link between laser scanning and BIM would be obvious.

Once you have the BIM you can then start to perform your higher value, “what if analysis” on the model, and hopefully begin to make more intelligent decisions about your facility. Pretty simple, right?

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